Youth smoking rates have not declined since 2004
Classy, cool, badass, sophisticated—nobody thinks of smoking in these terms anymore. Or so we thought. The recent release of the Surgeon General’s first report on youth smoking since 1994 unearthed some surprising realities, such as that, although the percentage of youth smokers under 18 years old had been steadily declining since 1997, progress rates stalled in 2004 and have not decreased since then.
The trend of stalled progress rings true here in Santa Cruz County, where youth smoking has also not declined since 2004. According to the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition, 40 percent of middle school and high school students report having tried cigarettes. “Smoking sort of goes with the town’s chill, beachy vibe,” local student Stephanie, who gave only her first name, opines.
But the problem doesn’t lie entirely in location or “vibe.” Surgeon General report findings confirm that sneaky marketing strategies are being used to attract a younger demographic. Tobacco products that are odor-free and can be dissolved instead of spit are conducive to settings that necessitate discretion, like schools. Also appealing to youth are cigarillos—cigars that smell and taste sugary sweet that are packaged like candy. “We don’t sell to anyone under 18,” a Downtown Santa Cruz convenience store clerk tells GT, “but I can see how this packaging looks kid-friendly, [and] makes these [tobacco products] look harmless.”
The Surgeon General has declared this a “pediatric epidemic fueled by tobacco marketing,” according to a March 14 press release from the local coalition.
“The tobacco industry is always coming up with new ways to tempt our youth to start smoking, and they have succeeded right here in our community—40 percent of our youth have tried cigarettes,” says Kathleen Hofvendahl-Clark, chair of the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition. “That is way too many.”